• Tue. Sep 20th, 2022

Increase in certain telephone bills for the benefit of rural telecommunications services in the southern plains

ByChad J. Johnson

Aug 31, 2022

LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) – Some customers may have noticed an increase in their phone bill in August and others may see it on their September bill after the Public Utilities Commission waived a surcharge for Texas Universal Service Fund, which, among other things, supports providers in rural service areas.

“The Texas Universal Service Fund was established several years ago to help rural areas have adequate telephone service,” said Jim Whitefield, executive vice president and general manager of Caprock Telephone at Spur. “It was a blessing for rural areas to be able to have a type of service that people in more urban areas would have.”

According reports, the Commission was ordered to make up for a $200 million shortfall in the Fund. This resulted in the Commission’s decision to increase the surcharge from 3.3% to 24%.

“Our lawmakers did a wonderful job trying to prepare for this in the 2021 session, but for some reason it didn’t materialize,” Whitefield said. “[The Commission was] so far behind that’s what made a big increase to get the whole fund and catch up, which makes it quite visible on some of the bills there.

According to Commission, charges are first assessed on receipts from telecommunications providers for local, long distance, pager, wireless and other telecommunications services. These providers may forward the assessment to their residential and commercial customers, with certain exemptions.

The charges on a customer’s bill are based on the services used, such as the number of long distance calls or the number of lines.

“We’ve already sent out an invoice on this and we’ve had very few calls from our constituents, our customers,” Whitefield said. “We haven’t received many. They recognize that this is a high cost area and that we would be unable to do any of these things if it were not available to us.

Whitefield told KCBD that Caprock Telephone has used money from the fund to upgrade infrastructure to ensure the rural community can connect by phone or internet. It is currently replacing copper cable, which is over 30 years old, with fibre.

“All of these areas serve good causes, grow a lot of cotton, other crops, a lot of livestock,” Whitefield said. “In addition to all the entities I mentioned that are essential to our well-being, 911 you name it, public schools, all of those things, we are able to provide them with the very best.”

Whitefield believes the increase in bills will only be temporary until the fund is full again.